On the Fringe … of becoming Hollywood’s renaissance man

Posted Sept. 18, 2009, at 4:37 p.m.
Director and producer J.J. Abrams, right, and his wife Katie McGrath arrive at The Pink Party benefiting Cedars-Sinai Women's Cancer Research Institute in Santa Monica, Calif. on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009.  (AP Photo/Dan Steinberg)
AP
Director and producer J.J. Abrams, right, and his wife Katie McGrath arrive at The Pink Party benefiting Cedars-Sinai Women's Cancer Research Institute in Santa Monica, Calif. on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009. (AP Photo/Dan Steinberg)

One of Hollywood’s hottest hyphenates has enjoyed his ties to Maine. Emmy winner J.J. Abrams, writer, producer, director and composer, is married to Katie McGrath, who graduated from Brewer High School in 1986. Although they grew up on opposite coasts, Abrams and McGrath were introduced by a mutual friend in New York City 15 years ago, and they’ve been together since.

The couple and their three children have been frequent summer visitors to the Maine coast. But Abrams vividly remembers his last trip to the Bangor area, on business of all things.

In 2006, Abrams and his fellow “Lost” producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse came to Bangor at the behest of Entertainment Weekly for a round-table discussion on creativity with Stephen King, who writes that magazine’s monthly The Pop of King column (among other things).

“That was the most fun interview ever,” Abrams exclaimed in a phone interview from his office in California. “We went to his house, then he took us out to get dinner at a family restaurant, then we went to Hoyts Cinema to watch ‘The Descent.’ That was the most fun you could have watching a horror movie.”

Jeffrey Jacob Abrams, 43, hasn’t had much time lately to visit Vacationland, what with his increasingly busy schedule in TV and film.

First up is his TV drama “Fringe,” which returned for its second season on Fox Thursday. “Fringe,” which tells of a special FBI unit that investigates crimes of science against humanity, stars Anna Torv, John Noble, Joshua Jackson and Lance Reddick.

What can viewers expect on “Fringe” this year? Generally speaking, more.

“You’re finding the balance, the voices, the tone in the first year,” Abrams said. “Now we feel more spry than last year. Things go deeper, with more consequences. It’s scarier, more emotional, sexier than last year.”

“Fringe” has drawn the unenviable time slot of 9 p.m. Thursday, which puts it up against hits “CSI” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” cult fave “Supernatural” and beloved comedies “The Office” and “30 Rock.”

“There are many places I’d rather be than there,” admitted Abrams. “But I’d rather be picked up for a second season than not.”

“Lost,” which Abrams co-created with Lindelof, begins its sixth and final season in January. He has mixed feelings about its approaching end.

“I don’t want to find myself wishing that it had ended a year earlier,” he said. “It’s better to go out on your own terms rather than just petering out.”

Through works such as “Lost,” “Fringe” and the earlier “Alias,” Abrams has become known for serialized drama with complex mythologies. This form isn’t very welcoming to the occasional viewer, something he recognizes.

“Sometimes it works out all right, other times I follow it to a fault,” he said. “One time, I sat down at a friend’s house to watch ‘Alias,’ and I was lost in the first five minutes. So with ‘Fringe,’ we’ve decided to let viewers tune in to watch likable, relatable characters deal with this most horrid stuff that science could throw your way. We’re trying to be inclusive of both dedicated and casual viewers. That’s often something we’ve had to grapple with.”

On the film front, King fans are wondering about “The Dark Tower,” which Abrams is scheduled to co-write and produce. With a seven-book series, multiple films would be in order.

“We’re coming to a place where we need to figure out the next step,” he said. “It’s a monumental challenge, and we’re going to do it right or not to all.”

Abrams’ next film out is “Morning Glory,” scheduled for release next summer. In the comedy, which he’s producing and now editing, an aspiring news producer (played by Rachel McAdams) tries to save a failing morning show by getting control of its feuding anchors (played by Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton).

Abrams is being credited with revitalizing the “Star Trek” franchise with this summer’s prequel set at Starfleet Academy starring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, which is due out on DVD and Blu-ray Nov. 17. The sequel, which he will produce, is being written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Lindelof, for a 2011 release.

Abrams also is set to write, direct and produce 2011’s “Mission: Impossible IV,” the screenplay for which is being written with Andre Nemec and Josh Applebaum. Abrams got his biggest break in films when he was tabbed to write and direct 2006’s “Mission: Impossible III” by the franchise’s star, Tom Cruise, who was an “Alias” fan.

With that kind of schedule, Abrams and his family could use another getaway to Maine soon.

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